Tag Archives: Kiernan Shipka

Killing Time

Totally Killer

by George Wolf

The quickest description is Back to the Future meets a mash of Scream and Happy Death Day. But Totally Killer offers a funhouse full of other genre wink-winks in a violent, raunchy, rollicking good time that often works in spite of itself.

Director Nahnatchka Khan and a writing team relatively new to features riff on everything from the Disney Channel to Sixteen Candles to Ace Ventura and beyond as a terrific Kiernan Shipka leads us on a life-saving mission back to the late 80s.

Shipka is Jamie Hughes (natch), a high school junior who is completely dismissive of her mom Pam’s (Julie Bowen) plea for caution on Halloween night.

See, back in late October 1987, three of Pam’s friends were murdered, each stabbed 16 times by a still-unknown masked assailant dubbed the “Sweet 16 Killer.” A true crime podcast host (Jonathan Potts) clues us in on the details, and the reasons why Pam is still skittish this time of year.

But Mom is one of the many townsfolk Jamie scoffs at, until her best friend Amelia’s (Kelcey Mawema) photo booth time machine turns out to actually work! So Jamie steps out of it and into ’87, where she’ll try to infiltrate her teen Mom’s (Olivia Holt) clique “The Mollys” (in tribute to Ringwald) and prevent those infamous murders from ever taking place.

And then, of course, she’s got to get back to…that place that is forward in time.

“I hate time travel movies. They never make any sense!’

So says the 80s sheriff (Randall Park) when Jamie tries to explain her predicament via Michael J. Fox, kicking off a self-aware string of consistently clever gags. And the veteran Shipka (Mad Men, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) proves charmingly adept at navigating the two generations with determined sass.

Jamie’s got a mission and she won’t be distracted by these oversexed heathens and their lack of boundaries!

“Hey, inappropriate touching!”

“This mean girl schtick is really outdated.”

And don’t even get her started on the lack of wifi or having to watch her future parents get handsy!

Shipka is irresistible, and she goes a long way toward keeping this mix of blood, sex, nostalgia, a Mandela effect discussion and F-bombs on the rails whenever it flirts with flying off. And there’s plenty of flirting.

But even when things get stabby, Khan brings a bright and shiny touch. There are helpful reminders about who these oblivious teens are young versions of, and some earnest explanations about what Marty McFly got wrong about time travel.

Totally Killer wants to play by its own rules of inspiration, tell you about it in advance and then yell “high five!” when it all works out.

Don’t leave ’em hanging. It’s a bloody fun time.

Identity Crisis

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

by Hope Madden

Winter break approaches at a Catholic New England boarding school. Snow piles up outside, the buildings empty, yet Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) remain. One has tricked her parents for an extra day with her townie boyfriend. One remains under more mysterious circumstances.

Things in writer/director Oz Perkins’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter quietly unravel from there – although quiet is not precisely the word for it. There is a stillness to the chilly, empty halls. But thanks to the filmmaker’s brother Elvis, whose disquieting score fills these empty spaces with buzzing, whispering white noise, a sinister atmosphere is born.

Like Perkins’s Netflix-produced follow up I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, Blackcoat’s Daughter breathes atmosphere and tension. Perkins repays your patience and your attention. You can expect few jump scares, but this is not exactly a slow-burn of a film, either.

It behaves almost in the way a picture book does. In a good picture book, the words tell only half the story. The illustrations don’t simply mirror the text, they tell their own story as well. If there is one particular and specific talent Blackcoat’s Daughter exposes in its director, it is his ability with a visual storyline.

Perkins is also a master at generating tension, a kind built on unsure footing. The filmmaker routinely touches on your expectations, quietly toying with them. He introduces characters and situations rife with horror possibilities, but equally plausible as images of safety: priests in a boarding school, cars on an icy road, James Remar in a motel room.

Remar’s mug can be associated with so many villainous characters that his presence in this film as a concerned father figure is perfect. There is one masterpiece of a scene between Remar and Emma Roberts – one that dances with to so many different rhythms of danger – and it perfectly encapsulates this filmmaker’s power over an audience.

When the slow and deliberate dread turns to outright carnage – when Perkins punctuates his forbidding atmosphere with hard action – he loses his footing just a bit. But Blackcoat’s Daughter is a thoughtful little horror show, its final act a fascinating rethinking of old horror tropes.

Pay attention when you watch this one. There are loads of sinister little clues to find.